Art of glass: racing star Susie Wolff honoured with glass sculpture

Susie Wolff unveiled the crystal glass sculpture based on her personalised helmet at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery today.
Susie Wolff unveiled the crystal glass sculpture based on her personalised helmet at the Scottish National Portrait Gallery today.
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Scottish motor racing star Susie Wolff has been immortalised in a crystal glass sculpture for one of the nation's leading art galleries.

A personalised helmet worn by Wolff inspired the work by Aberdeen-born artist Angela Palmer, who has previously created a number of pieces based on Formula One engineering.

Angela Palmer's sculpture was based on Susie Wolff's personalised helmet.

Angela Palmer's sculpture was based on Susie Wolff's personalised helmet.

Specialist glass-blowers in Birmingham made a mould of the helmet before crystal glass was blown into every detailed crevice.

The work, which has been acquired from the artist for the Scottish National Portrait Gallery in Edinburgh has gone on display alongside images of Andy Murray, Billy Connolly, Annie Lennox, Ewan McGregor, John Byrne and Tilda Swinton.

Wolff said: "I have the deepest admiration for Angela Palmer and her work so having my helmet as her subject has been a true honour for me. I think the sculpture is stunning and very striking, it’s the most incredible combination of strength with fragility.

"Seeing the completed piece makes me feel enormously proud and I’m very grateful to Angela for her time and her talent. Just as sport can, art has the capacity to cross so many boundaries like education, race and religion. I’m delighted to see both sport and art combined in such a brilliant and personal piece of work."

Palmer previously worked with Renault to create a series of sculptures for a solo exhibition in London. A self-portrait, entitled Brain of the Artist, was previously acquired by the National Galleries of Scotland and included in a 100 Masterpieces drawn from its collection.

She said: "Interestingly, Susie’s helmet played a significant role in bestowing her equal status as a driver: once her helmet was on, no-one knew if she was male or female.

"The helmet gave her anonymity, and rendered the gender issue irrelevant.

"I became equally fascinated by that most potent ingredient which attracts so much of the sport’s following – the acute and heightened sense of risk as drivers slice between each other at over 350km/h with only millimeters to spare.

"I chose crystal for its fragility, to echo the vulnerable membrane of the skull."

Born in Oban in 1982, Wolff first came to prominence in 1996 when she was named British Woman Kart Racing Driver of the year and was was Top Female Kart Driver in the World four years later.

Wolff began her professional motor-racing career in 2001 when she competed in the Formula Renault Championships and made her name competing in the German Touring Car Championships between 2006 and 2012.

Wolff was snapped up as a development driver by the Williams Formula One team in 2012 famously became the first woman to take part part in a Formula One race weekend for 22 years when she appeared at the British Grand Prix in 2014.

But she decided to retire from driving in motorsports in 2015 and is now the boss of the Monaco-based Venturi team.

Christopher Baker, director of European and Scottish art and portraiture at the National Galleries of Scotland, said: "Susie Wolff has excelled in the world of motor racing and as an advocate for female talent in sport and we are delighted that she is now represented in our collection in such a fascinating, thought-provoking and unconventional way.

"This crystal glass racing helmet, based on one of Wolff’s own, and so carefully crafted through the expertise of Angela Palmer and her collaborators, represents a fascinating form of suggestive representation.

"It is intimate, elegant and intriguing - a sculpture which both refers to the subject’s outstanding success, and moves beyond the boundaries of conventional portraiture."